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House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was application.

Topics

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Thursday, March 13, 2008, be concurred in.

It is my honour to ask the House to support the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. A motion was presented on Thursday, March 13, that the report be concurred in. I will read the motion that is in front of the House right now. It states:

The Committee recommends that the government allow any applicant (unless they have serious criminality) who has filed their first in-Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on their application.

Members can imagine that when people get married, they would want their wives or their husbands to stay in Canada and be able to live together, to start a family, and to be able to enjoy their time together. The immediate time right after the marriage is the time when people are on their honeymoon and they really want to spend time together.

There is an immigration policy that very few Canadians actually know about. Probably very few members of Parliament know about it as well. It says that if one meets someone here in Canada and that person happens not to be a Canadian, the person might have been visiting in Canada or maybe a student, and one gets married to that person, under the present rules right now some of these spouses would be deported from Canada. Of course, one wants these people to stay in Canada. Then the sponsorship application must begin all over again overseas. In the meantime, these couples are separated for over a year.

I will give an example. On Valentine's Day of this year I highlighted the case in my riding of Mr. and Mrs. Chen. Mr. Chen has been in Canada for many years. He has a very successful business worth about $13 million and it is his family's sole source of financial support. A few years ago he was working with one of his co-worker's and fell in love. This young lady is a Canadian, they are both in their thirties, and a perfectly matched couple. She decided to sponsor Mr. Chen in Canada.

After waiting for six or seven months, the application to sponsor him and allow him to stay in Canada is still proceeding. In the meantime, Mr. Chen has been asked to be deported. This is very strange. Through his lawyer, he said that his wife was dependant on him financially and emotionally, and would be greatly harmed by his removal. Mrs. Chen had an 11 year old stepson and the stepson has adopted this wonderful father. They are very close. They have been living together for two or three years. Yet, this man faces deportation. A few days before Valentine's Day the police came to his house and he was about to be arrested and deported.

There was another situation of Brigitta Sallay. She had been in Canada for seven years. She married Arpad Vadasz or they lived in common law. They have an eight month old child. In April of this year, while her husband was sponsoring her application to stay in Canada, she was deported. She was arrested on April 9 and then a few days later on April 12 she was deported along with her eight month old child to Hungary.

That is completely bizarre because the mom of this baby has a common law husband who lives in Canada and the removal officer forgot to tell their 10-year-old daughter who is also in Canada. The 10-year-old daughter was in school at the time her mom was deported and did not even know about it, so the father ended up having to pick her up from school. As a result, they are now waiting for the mom to come back to Canada.

We can see that married couples are being cruelly separated due to a heartless immigration policy. I hear many heartbreaking stories of couples living in Canada who are about to be separated even while their spousal sponsorship applications are in progress. I asked the immigration committee to pass this very important motion because immigrants deserve fairness. By enacting very small changes, we can make a big impact on many families. The system does not have to be this complicated.

For over a decade, minister after minister talked about supporting families and yet they failed to support loving couples. It is absurd and cruel to separate families, and cause untold emotional and financial hardship just because of a failure of a political will or because Parliament has not been paying attention.

I say that it is time for fairness for immigrant families. It is time to stop the deportation of spouses who have an outstanding application for sponsorship by their Canadian partners.

One of the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is “to see that families are reunited in Canada”, but we are failing far too many families who are separated while living together here in Canada.

Some members may remember that in the House of Commons in 2005 there was a controversy involving the former minister of immigration. She was accused of giving a ministerial permit to allow a woman to stay in Canada while her partner was sponsoring her. This woman happened to be a former stripper and that became a big controversy. It became known as “strippergate”, or something of that nature, and her husband was sponsoring her at that time. Had the policy been changed, she probably would not have had to go to a minister or a member of Parliament. Her husband would have been able to sponsor her within Canada without any trouble.

So, in 2005, a new Liberal minister of immigration at that time made a policy change and said that most Canadians could in fact sponsor their husband or wife in Canada and they would not face deportation.

The policy at that time was clear. It said that we should allow Canadians who wanted to sponsor a spouse in Canada to apply in Canada whether or not their spouse was in status. One would think that was simple. That is what the policy said. There was no objection at that time. There was no uproar. People in the communities thought it made sense to allow these couples to stay together in Canada while their sponsorship applications were processed.

But what happened? What happened was that the department, and allow me to read this:

In 2005, a new public policy (the “spousal policy”) was adopted under the humanitarian and compassionate grounds provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to extend the benefit of the SCPC class to spouses and common-law partners who are in Canada without status, subject to some exceptions discussed below.

So, the intention was to allow all inland applicants to apply in Canada for their spouses. Instead of doing it in a very clean, straightforward way, the former Liberal government did not really pay enough attention to it. It changed the policy a bit, but it really did not complete its job. It did not finish the job. It did not get the job done.

According to the Library of Parliament, there are people, loving couples, that are now affected by this. It is not a small number. Since I have been talking about this issue, I have received many examples of people being deported. They are not fraudulent applications remember and we are not talking about people who want to cheat the system. We are talking about allowing them to stay in Canada.

The absurd situation is that when Canada deports people back to their country of origin, we spend a lot of money arresting the people. We then have to ensure they depart and may even provide their means of travel, which again is a lot of money. Then the applications that have been processed within Canada and that may have been worked on a lot for over eight months, these applications within Canada have to be scrapped.

If a person is deported to let us say China, the Canadian spouse would have to start a new application all over again to bring that person back into this country. Think of the cost, the duplication, and the administrative nightmare. The application forms have to be re-submitted, this time in Canada and overseas. None of the old applications would be in order. There would have to be a second medical exam and a security clearance.

We have heard from the minister recently that the backlog in overseas offices is at 925,000 and yet in Canada we are adding to that backlog in a completely needless way. We do not need to do it that way and yet we deport people even though they will eventually come back to Canada.

It is almost as if the right hand, which is the Canada immigration centre, is not paying attention to what the left hand, which is the Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA, is doing. As a result, the Canadian immigration system is processing an application and in the meantime the person is being deported. Then the application stops and it has to start all over again. It is absurd. It is a complete waste of taxpayers' money doing it that way. Not only does it waste taxpayers' money, it takes a huge emotional toll on couples.

Let me describe a few more examples. In Thunder Bay, there is a couple by the name of Marcel and Cindy Stubbe. Cindy, who is 44 years old, is terminally ill with lung cancer, which has spread to her brain, while her 42-year-old husband lives with her and is facing the constant threat of deportation to his native home, Holland. While his wife is a Canadian citizen, Marcel's status is that of a visitor, meaning that he faces deportation.

He thought originally that the government would show some compassion because of his wife's condition. Remember she has lung cancer, which is a terminal illness. The couple lives in a trailer park on a very strict budget and because Marcel is not allowed to work, he and his wife subsist on her $1,061 from the Ontario disability support program. After paying all the bills, they have about $100 left to buy a month's worth of groceries and pet food for their cats. Because of Marcel's visitor status, he and his wife did not qualify as a family of two, which would have meant a larger payment from ODSP.

Marcel and his wife have a very positive outlook on life. They said that some days are good and some days are bad. The Thunder Bay community is showing heart. It is very kind and generous. A group of strangers, neighbours of theirs, came together and raised over $800 so Marcel could pay the fees required to apply for his immigration status. The fees were $550 and the couple was able to use the rest for food.

The good Samaritans included the Victorian Order of Nurses, social workers and local volunteers. The couple said that they believed in miracles, but would it not be wonderful if he did not have to face deportation and that he could live in Canada with his fairly sick wife.

There is another case from Toronto. The couple had two kids together in Canada. One is two years old and the other one is six months old and is still breast-feeding. One child was born in Ontario in 2005 and the other in 2007. The wife is facing deportation right now even though the husband is sponsoring her. The wife has to quit her ultrasound technician job and leave her properties behind. They have to reapply overseas and wait for another year or so. The two kids will either live with the father in Canada or with the mother back home in China.

It is just unbelievable. Why would we ask a family to make the decision of whether the children will stay with the father or the mother? They are not criminals.

We have 22,000 people in the backlog waiting to be deported and some are couples. They have Canadians who are sponsoring them and yet we deport them. We spend $23 million a year deporting people out of Canada and yet yesterday the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development said that Canada needed families, children and workers. He said that because of our declining population and declining birthrate we are in serious need of more workers and young people and yet we are spending all that money to deport people. Half of them have businesses and the other half have very good jobs in Canada. They have kids born in Canada and yet we deport them. It does not make any sense.

We have another situation of a wife and husband who have been married since April 2004 and CBSA is trying to deport the husband. He has no criminal record. He works, pays his taxes and is a good husband and father. The couple bought a house in October 2007 and yet this poor man is being deported while the wife is trying to sponsor him.

These people are writing to the House of Commons through their member of Parliament asking that we please change the rules.

There is another person whose fiancée is in Italy while she lives here. She is a Canadian. They have been together for seven years. The whole situation is quite absurd. Not only is it costly but it increases our backlog and causes untold hardship on families.

I am asking that the House, hopefully unanimously or a good majority, supports the motion so that the matter will not come back here a year from now. I hope the minister will do the right thing and change the rule so that in a few months time or maybe by next Valentines Day we will not see couples being cruelly separated for no reason except some bureaucratic misunderstanding.

I hope all members of Parliament will support this concurrence motion and the immigration committee and allow these couples to stay together in Canada.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the New Democratic Party has outlined the dilemma that many MPs face with respect to the compassionate and humanitarian approach to many of these cases.

I am not sure the amendments to the Immigration Act would deal with the issue that is raised continuously, which is that factored into this humanitarian and compassionate criteria is the retort that we cannot encourage people to jump the queue. There are those who make their applications from abroad and go through the process. Invariably, that is the position that the departments have taken in the past.

I wonder if the member could respond to that. Speaking on behalf of my own riding of York South—Weston, it is tremendously frustrating. I can see both sides of that issue, but would the member perhaps have a workable resolution that would deal with that issue and allow, on compassionate and humanitarian grounds, those kinds of cases that she cited to be resolved in the Canadian character?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, in this case the motion does not say that anyone should jump the queue. The motion reads:

That the Committee recommend that the government allow any applicant (unless they have serious criminality) who has filed their first in-Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on their application....

We are not saying that we should push these spousal applications ahead of the queue. We are saying that if it takes six months, nine months or a year, it is okay. We can let them wait. However, in the meantime, we should allow them to work because some of them have a work permit or a visa and are working anyway. The key is that while their application is going forward we should not deport them. That is all I am saying. If we deport them, they must start all over again, which will definitely increase the backlog.

No one is jumping any queue. The couple is already in Canada and many couples are working, paying taxes, raising a family and own a house in Canada. Why are we deporting them and separating them? Why would we want to stop collecting their taxes? It does not make sense. There should be no queue jumping. It is okay to have them wait but we should not make it so absurd that they must reapply all over again and CBSA incurring the expense of deporting them from Canada.

The Auditor General will be coming out with a report later today about CBSA. We do not yet know the content. Will it be that CBSA does not give value for money? In these cases, Canadian taxpayers are not getting value for their money because we deport people, we process them and then they come back in after a year or two years, which is a complete waste of taxpayer money and the applicant's money. In the meantime, we are not collecting the taxes from those who had been working. It is absurd.

A very small change can have a dramatic impact for a lot of couples.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the motion, what does the member consider to be serious criminality? How would she classify that and at what point would that stage be reached? Also, until an approval in principle is given with respect to an issue, does she see any difficulty with granting an open work permit before that decision is made? Might there be abuses of the system if one simply applied and had an open work permit before an approval in principle was made? Does the hon. member see any difficulties with that?

I appreciate that there are certain compelling and compassionate reasons why she might consider that but, at the same time, might there be situations that she can see that would be a matter of concern if the approval in principle had not yet been completed? If the due process has not gone forward, nor has an investigation been made as to whether or not the relationship is bona fide and actually exists as it ought to, does she see any difficulties in that area?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I raised that question in the committee. I want to quote Ms. Susan Kramer, one of the directors of CBSA, who said that last year CBSA deported 12,637 people. She went on to say:

The total backlog is 22,000, and of those, 6% are what we call high-priority cases. Those are the ones who pose a risk to national security, those involved in organized crime or crimes against humanity, and of course, criminals.

My definition of criminals is that they have a criminal record, which is pretty serious. She said that out of the backlog of 20,000, it would be under 2,000 people. About 6% of these people would have criminal records.

We need to speed up the deportation of these criminals. If the CBSA can spend more time and money tracking these people down and getting rid of them, fine. I think everybody here in the House of Commons would support that. However, we are not talking about criminals. We are talking about loving spouses.

As to the member's second question on whether there would be people who would abuse the system, there are always one or two bad apples, maybe 1 out 1,000. Some people will abuse the system but it is such a small number.

Marriage is a big occasion. It is a life occasion. I cannot see many Canadians getting married because they want their spouse to abuse the Canadian system and get a work permit, for heaven's sake. If we were to go outside Parliament Hill and ask people if they would marry someone in Canada who does not have status so the person could work here, I think most people would say absolutely not.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to my colleague, I could not help but think of an incident I had during the time of the last election of a young, recently married woman who was expecting a child. The marriage was delayed because of a problem with the husband's divorce. The authorities insisted on deporting her to a country where the health system was quite questionable in terms of its capacity to provide her with proper health coverage during the course of the pregnancy.

During the course of that election, I tried to get special permission from the minister to allow her to stay. What I said repeatedly at that time was that this was crazy because the woman would be allowed back into this country once her application was processed. I said that it was because of the delay over the divorce that it had not gone as far as it should have by now but that she would be allowed to come back.

A year later, after she had the baby by herself in another country, she is back living with her husband in a solid marriage. We put her through all that trauma.

Does either Immigration Canada or the Border Services Agency keep statistics on how many people in a spousal relation situation come back to Canada after being deported, which wastes all that time, effort and money for nothing?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

That may indeed be a very good question but, unfortunately, we have run out of time.

We are resuming debate now. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the motion does not talk about approval of the application in principle. It simply says that by filing the application, there would be an automatic stay in deportation and a temporary work permit would be issued. It seems to me that if we took this to its logical conclusion, it would certainly allow for potential abuse. I am not talking about legitimate cases and those that are approved in principle because that already happens. This is taking it to an illogical conclusion.

I would like to take this opportunity to speak to the motion proposed by the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina. We oppose the motion.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration voted on the motion that would entitle any applicant to an automatic stay of removal and a work permit until a decision was rendered on his or her in Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application. Allowing automatic stays of removal together with automatic access to work permits could seriously undermine the integrity of Canada's immigration program.

We have established a fair and adequate process in this country which ensures people are protected, but it also allows them to go through various processes that can take years before a decision is rendered. One could take advantage of that in a situation like this. It would almost certainly lead to an increase in applications in the spouse or common law partner in Canada class from individuals whose relationships might not be legitimate and who were seeking to enter Canada by any means. We are not talking about the obvious ones. Applications based on compassionate reasons should go forward, as should those approved in principle. We are talking about the potential misuse that might exist for others.

As members of the House are aware, all immigration applications are carefully examined to ensure that they are bona fide. For spouse or common law applications in Canada, steps are taken to ensure that the relationship which forms the basis of the application is bona fide in order to protect the integrity of the immigration program.

The Government of Canada is responsible for meeting this country's economic needs while fostering family reunification and offering protection to refugees. Those are the three pillars of our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Family reunification is a key element of the act. Keeping families together helps people integrate into Canadian society and contributes to their success. We believe our current policies reflect this goal.

Under the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, measures are in place which allow individuals already living in Canada to apply for permanent residence from within Canada. There are two types of cases involved: those who are in status and those who are out of status.

Spouses and common law partners already in Canada and who are in status may apply for permanent residence in the spouse or common law partner in Canada class. In order to be eligible under this class, applicants must have a bona fide relationship, live with their sponsoring spouse or common law partner in Canada, and have legal temporary status in Canada. That is the way our system ought to work. It ought to have a balance in the process. While their applications are being processed, spouses and common law partners can apply to maintain their temporary resident status.

In addition, once applicants are confirmed as having met the eligibility requirements as spouses or common law partners in the in Canada class, they can remain in Canada and apply for open work permits while the necessary security and medical background checks are done to obtain final approval.

We have a system in place that is working. We have a system in place that allows for open work permits to happen, but there are also security issues that need to be taken into account.

This initial eligibility assessment, also known as the approval in principle, plays an important role in preserving the integrity of Canada's immigration program. It ensures that CIC has determined that an applicant's relationship is genuine before he or she is eligible to apply for a work permit. It only makes sense. It would not make sense to simply file an application just because one says he or she is a spouse. It makes it open to abuse.

I would like to stress that while the majority of spousal applicants are bona fide and are in bona fide relationships, some do abuse our programs. That is why we must take that reality into consideration.

To help prevent this abuse, citizenship and immigration officers check an applicant's background. They perform personal interviews and examine evidence to ensure that the relationship is genuine. Our current policy of restricting access to open work permits until after approval in principle is obtained prevents applicants from using the spouse or common law partner in Canada class as an avenue to circumvent legitimate immigration processes.

These are measures already in place for people who are in status to stay in Canada while their application is in process. However, Canada's immigration system is even more generous than that. We have measures in place for family members who are out of status to stay here permanently as well. For spouses and common law partners who are in Canada without legal immigration status, a public policy was introduced in 2005 to also allow these individuals, including failed refugee claimants, to apply and be processed in the in Canada class.

This public policy was implemented to facilitate family reunification in cases where spouses and common law partners were already living together in Canada, but who may have certain inadmissibilities resulting in a lack of status. This certainly has gone a long way to addressing many of the concerns that have been raised. It is not an opportunity or an availability to address every concern, because in that event, the illegitimate ones, or those that would use the system improperly, would be allowed as well.

The inadmissibilities I refer to include, for example, having overstayed one's temporary status, working or studying without being authorized to do so, or entering Canada without a valid passport, the required visa or other documentation, and would apply to failed refugee claimants.

The ability to submit an application in these cases, and these cases are exempt, allows individuals to remain in Canada for a limited period of time, 60 days, should removal action be initiated. This period facilitates the processing of their application to the approval in principle stage. As with those who are already in status, these applicants will be allowed to apply for a work permit once they have obtained approval in principle.

In addition to this initial 60 day deferral of removal, once an applicant has obtained approval in principle, a stay of removal is granted until a final decision is made on the application. The system has built into it a policy that is equitable, compassionate and takes into consideration many of the issues that have been raised as problematic.

For individual cases where determination of eligibility is complex and may take longer than 60 days, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency consult with one another and reach a decision on how to proceed. This is yet another step in the process.

The current policy is considerably generous and flexible in facilitating family reunification applications and processing from within Canada. In most cases it allows people to stay while their application is in process. Once the bona fides of their application have been established, they are allowed to apply for an open work permit.

The government is diligent in ensuring that these applications are processed in a timely fashion, without undermining Canada's commitment to family reunification. That principle remains intact. That principle continues to be an abiding one that is taken into consideration along with the others that form part of the act.

Moreover, the existing measures minimize the potential for abuse. They strike the appropriate balance between our family reunification goals and the need to maintain the integrity of the immigration program.

Based on the reasons I have outlined, I would encourage my colleagues in the House to vote against the motion before them. It is very easy to bring a motion that would be all encompassing, all inclusive and to say it does apply to some existing extenuating circumstances. What the motion fails to consider is what might happen if an automatic stay and an open work permit were given every time an application was filed without any analysis of the claim or without any analysis of the bona fides of the relationship and without looking at any material. That would be inappropriate. It would not be the type of due diligence Canadians would expect from their government.

They would at least want to ensure a certain threshold was met before any of those actions were taken. As I stated in my speech, when we look at all of the provisions that are already in place, we would have to come to the conclusion that equity, fairness and compassion are parts of the system which not only allow out of status people to remain here, not only provide for a time period to go through the processes to get to the approval in principle, but also allow for discussion to take place between two departments that are involved in the process to ensure that in those cases that require some compassion and equity, discretion will be exercised appropriately.

When we compare what is in place to what some of the needs are, a fair balance has been struck between what is necessary to meet the need and what is necessary to protect the integrity of the system. Canadians would expect that much. A balance is not always easy to draw, but we know that it needs to be a balance. To simply say we can file documents and expect consequences to happen without regard to what is in the documents would not be appropriate. It would not be exercising one's due diligence and would be abdicating in an area where Canadians would expect us to take some measure of work and take some measure of due diligence to ensure that the basic threshold is met.

For that reason, we oppose the motion as stated.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I was researching this issue, about nine months ago I asked the minister and CBSA how many Canadian-born children are deported each year. They do not keep statistics apparently, so we do not know. We deport Canadian-born kids with their moms or dads, so that they can come back in later.

This whole notion of the Canada Immigration Centre working with CBSA is actually not quite correct. I have seen cases in which the right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing. In the meantime the parliamentary secretary said that we should see whether we can get the approval in principle done first and then make a decision. That would be fine if it could be done within six months. On average it is supposed to take six months. Even if there is a stay of deportation for six months to allow the Canada Immigration Centre to process the determination, some cases take more than six months. It could be seven months or eight months and sometimes two years, but after the six months has passed, guess what happens. CBSA swoops in and the person is gone. That person could be two days or two weeks away from getting an approval in principle, yet just as the person is about to get the approval in principle, the person is deported.

How is this system fair? How is it equitable? How is it flexible? It does not meet those criteria. It is not fair. it is not equitable. It is a waste of money.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I take issue with that. I would disagree with the hon. member. Certainly, that is not the case. I know when a child is involved, the best interests of the child are always paramount and are taken into consideration.

We have a humanitarian and compassionate grounds process that is probably second to none in the world, where applications are taken into consideration and those factors are in place. In fact, in Canada we have a system that is unique in many ways. We have not only a hearing, but there is application for leave to the Federal Court, and appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal in some cases. We have humanitarian and compassionate grounds applications. Many times they can be made more than once and can extend for years. We have a pre-removal risk assessment. We have taken into account all of these processes.

There may need to be some inequities looked at. There may need to be some policy shifts, but certainly simply saying because there may need to be some of those, to go the full way and say every time an application is filed automatically there is a stay of proceeding and an automatic open work permit is not being fair, just or appropriate, given all the circumstances. It is simply not the way it is meant to work. At some point we have to draw line and say that people have to establish some basic facts before they are entitled to these things. That threshold is simply to establish a bona fide application, to say one's application has some legitimacy and some basis to it. When that happens, that is sufficient, but someone has to take the time to ensure that that happens.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was with great interest that I listened to the parliamentary secretary speak about uniting families, the integrity of the system and compassion.

I want to put to him a specific question regarding a constituent of mine, Mr. Masood Firoozian. He came to Canada, married his wife and applied. This was in 2006. The file was sent to the Vegreville case processing centre, which referred this file to Etobicoke. That was in March 2006.

In August of 2007, Etobicoke answered me and said:

This spousal application was referred to Etobicoke CIC from CPC Vegreville in March.07. It will be 12 to 14 months before this file will be assigned to an officer....

Fourteen months have gone by. He went back to them. On 16/04 a letter was received that said the spousal application was referred to Etobicoke, not in March 2007, as they said, but in January 2008. It was a total misrepresentation. It further stated:

It will be at least 12 months before this application will be assigned to an officer for review.

The fellow came to Canada and married his wife and he is still in status. Now his wife has to undergo a serious operation that will have her laid up for six months.

My question is very simple. He applied for an open work permit in order to be able to look after and provide for his family. His wife is going in for an operation and he wants to get a work permit, yet under the Conservative government we are not allowed to move to get him an open work permit so he can work.

I have a question for the parliamentary secretary. I have already sent a letter to the minister on this. Will he intervene on Mr. Masood Firoozian's behalf in order to make sure he gets an open work permit so that when his wife is in hospital for the next six months he is able to look after his family? If the parliamentary secretary wants to put his money where his mouth is, he will stand up and say that he will intervene.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, as much as this member may want me to speak on an individual's specific case, it is obviously something that I would not do, nor would anybody responsibly do it. That case will have to stand on its own merits. He will get a response in due course.

What we are talking about here is not a specific case but a policy that applies to all applicants across the country. We have--

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

An hon. member

You're talking about people. You forgot to mention them.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

I think the responsible thing to do is to look at what are the underpinnings and principles involved in the policy. A motion to simply say that because people file some piece of paper they automatically get this and that is not responsible. That member is not responsible nor is any member who feels that would be an objective way to go.

There must be an objective basis. There have to be certain parameters and guidelines and they must be followed. Are there cases outside that have some issues that need to be looked at? There are. Those issues will be looked at in due course and I trust the appropriate rules and processes will be applied to those cases.

However, as a principle, it is important that we look at the program's integrity in a holistic way and ensure that there are certain underpinnings that must be met. When they are met, the due course will follow. I think what we have here is an appropriate balance and I certainly believe it should be maintained.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary has indicated that this is all about balance. It is no surprise to us that he and his colleagues on the Conservative side are opposing this concurrence motion, as they opposed the report itself at committee, which gave rise to this debate on the concurrence motion.

I have to say I think it noteworthy that the Liberals have seen fit to play their role as official opposition in this case and actually stand behind the work that is done in the minority government situation at committee and now in Parliament. We would like to see more of that.

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary a question. In opposing the motion and the report, he says that existing measures strike an appropriate balance between family reunification and the need to maintain the integrity of the immigration program. I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary would address the question of these horrendous backlogs that continue, and what that says about the government's notion of balance in what is clearly case after case after case where humanitarian and compassionate consideration should be brought to bear.

Where is the balance between continuing with serious shortages of staff trained and qualified to carry out these kinds of processes and making a decision to virtually gut the treasury by giving away very large sums of money to those who least need tax giveaways in our society today, those being big oil, big banks and big polluters? Where is the balance between that and those who are facing desperate family crises in many cases as a result of the policy that the parliamentary secretary and his government insist on standing behind, which is--

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. The parliamentary secretary has to have some time to reply.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that there needs to be an appropriate balance struck, and I am suggesting that this indeed is the case. Striking a balance would mean that we have to weigh the issues and then decide having regard to all of those issues. Simply filing an application expecting a result to happen, whether it is bona fide or not, is not weighing the balance. I think the member ought to know that.

With respect to the other issues she raised, I wonder why her particular party would choose to vote against $1.3 billion being set aside for settlement and integration to make the system work better and to have those who do come in succeed. Why would those members vote against that or against a foreign credential referrals office that would help those who need credentialling to take place? Why would they have voted against cutting a $975 immigration tax, as was opposed by the previous Liberal government--

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry, but the time has expired. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to engage in this debate.

I want to say to the parliamentary secretary it is really unfortunate that he had his speaking notes prepared for him for the chamber and that he did not speak with the same rationality he did in the committee, because the policy we are looking at does not make any sense.

Cutting this down to the bare bones, what we have is that somebody applies for inland spousal landing. It is legal. There is absolutely nothing untoward about it. That is how the system was set up to work. However, the processing starts on that application and since it does not get done in time, it is passed on to removal, for no reason other than the fact that the application is not processed. Where does that make any kind of sense?

Somebody takes the right step and makes an inland spousal application to be able to stay here, which is quite proper, but because the bureaucracy does not deal with the issue fast enough, we are going to remove that individual. Where does that many any sense at all? That is what this comes down to.

I am shocked, and I am sure all the opposition parties are shocked, because for years we listened to that party stand in this House and defend family values. How much more of a family value can we have than not splitting husband from wife, father from children, sons and daughters, or mothers from their children? That is what this whole issue comes down to.

If the case were that somebody was found to have a relationship that was not bona fide and it was a marriage of convenience, nobody is arguing that this person be allowed to stay here. What we are talking about is that when somebody makes an application to keep their family together in Canada the case must be processed before one of the spouses is removed.

Mr. Speaker, you must be wondering about it as well because I am sure you heard the same speeches on family values coming from the Conservative Party. This reminds me of the kind of family values where Mexico refuses to recognize religious marriages as far as derivative citizenship is concerned.

However, I mentioned that it really is too bad that the parliamentary secretary gets up in this House and reads notes prepared for him by the department, because when we had committee hearings on this issue, there was a sign in his questioning that he actually understood the issue and knew that this issue was not right.

I am going to refer to the meeting where this issue was discussed in committee and the parliamentary secretary asked the official:

I know there's a concern about multiple applications, but from what I'm hearing, if one application isn't determined in 60 days, you make it a point between the two departments to expedite it. If you removed the idea of multiple applications and just dealt with the particular case, is there any reason why, as a matter of policy, the removal couldn't be withheld until the expedited process on that particular application is completed?

This is what we all agree on. I think all of us in the committee agreed on it.

I have had a number of cases, like most members of Parliament have had, in dealing with this. There are two cases in particular to which I will refer. One involved a young couple who were married last summer. The husband was born in Canada. His father had emigrated from Guyana. The husband attended the University of Waterloo, where he met his future wife, who came from Guyana to go to Wilfrid Laurier University. They met and kept in contact.

While the young woman had status initially in Canada, she went back to Guyana. The relationship continued, she came up for a visit and the young couple decided to get married. They filed for inland application, which happened during the summer. While this was granted, the young woman could not get a temporary work permit to engage in her occupation. She happens to be a financial professional.

I come from the riding of Kitchener—Waterloo. We have a lot of insurance companies in the riding. It is the home of Sun Life, Manulife and a number of others. Her skills were in demand, but she could not get a work permit until she had approval in principle, which did not make any sense. When a young couple gets married, we want the couple to start off their life with both of them being able to work. We know the financial strains that can happen in marriages, especially with young people who are paying off students loans or whatever.

The work permit was not allowed until the approval in principle came through, which does not make any sense. We are a country that brings in well over 100,000 temporary foreign workers to work in Canada, yet for people who want to be future citizens and build a family in Canada, we deny them the right to work while the bureaucracy goes through the file.

Another situation I had was in Chilliwack. The son of a friend of mine, who is a teacher, was involved with a veterinarian who happened to be from Holland. When the couple decided to get married, and her status would expire, she specifically went out of the country to make application because that way she could continue to work.

We have two very similar cases being treated totally differently by our officials in the handling of immigration matters for spouses.

I am sure most members of the House, who were here at the time, will recall a former minister who was in trouble around the whole issue of giving ministerial permits to people who wanted to get married and maintain their partners in Canada so they would not be split up.

The problem was, instead of having it down as a matter of routine by the bureaucracy, which is the way it used to be done, the rules were changed to require a minister's permit. This was totally wrong, and the minister was in trouble for showing compassion. The case she happened to deal with spun out of control. It was referred to as “strippergate”, as members will recall.

The basic foundation of it was that a Canadian male married that woman and therefore she was allowed to stay because she got the permit. Given the problems associated with that, we changed the rules back to the way they were. The rules are, if people marry, they can apply to have them stay inland while the case is being processed. There is nothing difficult about this.

I heard questions in the chamber about the queue and about how the time spent in lineups to get into Canada might be harmful.

I would like the House to consider this situation. CBSA expends resources to get people out of the country. Because their application has not been processed, it will have to start to process the application out of the country once again, which will take a lot of time and will back up the queue. Instead of doing that, why do we not dedicate the resources that CBSA spends to go after people who have made legitimate applications to land in Canada to keep their family together, pass it to processing and ensure it gets done. This is not rocket science.

The way the rule stands is just not defensible. It does not make any sense. It is the height of ridicule of a bureaucracy to split up families. We know problems are created when a family is split up for a period of time. They suffer emotionally, financially and psychologically.

Too often our officials separate families for absolutely no good reason. They claim that children are not deported if they are born in Canada. However, the reality is when parents are moved out of the country, the children will be split from them. In the case of undocumented workers, the children follow their parents even though they were born in our country.

I do not understand the change in the approach of the parliamentary secretary. Why does he not go back to the common sense approach that he expressed in committee?

The Conservative government claims it is the pillar of family values, yet it is quite willing to split up families for no good reason. Why? The bureaucracy does not proceed fast enough. Why not? Money has been wasted on border services to round up people, which they never should round up, to send them out of the country. This ends up creating more work in getting people back into the country, and families are being split apart.

I call upon the parliamentary secretary to go back to the common sense approach he had in committee. I call upon him to persuade the minister and his colleagues in the Conservative caucus that keeping families together is a good thing. Splitting them apart unnecessarily is a bad thing. That should not be too difficult. I really am shocked that the Conservatives have not seen that point before, particularly the parliamentary secretary who understands the issues.

The money we spend to remove people from Canada, and I am not sure if it is 10% or 11% of the cases related to this, seems to be a real waste of resources. The government claims that we have to bring in more and more temporary foreign workers because of unfilled positions. To not issue a work permit to a spouse, while a case is being processed, also does not make any sense.

People who make refugee claims are allowed to have a work permit because we want to ensure they have a chance to support themselves. We also want to ensure that when people come to Canada, the first thing we do not say to them is that they have to rely on assistance from someone else, but rather they should come into the country and work. This is a good thing. I am surprised, from that perspective, why this does not make any sense to the Conservatives.

On one hand, the government is defending this policy. Essentially, the Conservatives are parroting the nonsensical evidence we heard from the officials at the citizenship and immigration committee. On the other hand, under the guise of Bill C-50, they really do not want to open up the debate to the extent it should be. Instead, they are saying that the whole system is wrong.

I ask the parliamentary secretary and the government to use a little common sense. Look at the policy, use some innate common sense and fix it. This is not rocket science. Somebody makes a legal application and then, because the bureaucracy does not process it in time, we remove that individual.

When I asked the officials in front of the committee if they could tell us what the percentage of approval of these cases was, they said it was 90%. Then I asked the officials if they could tell us how many people they got rid of because the department was unable to process the case in time and how many of those people came back in because their relationship was legitimate. The officials told me that they did not know and that they did not keep statistics on that, which surprised me.

Why not? Why would the department not keep statistics on something that simple? Then perhaps it could judge the quality of its decision making at the front end, instead of making these ridiculous decisions, removing individuals and making them go through the whole process of applying from outside, and splitting up families. How does this make sense? It does not. The only people it seems to make sense to are those in the Conservative Party, who are supposed to be the paragon of virtue by trying to defend family values. They quite lackadaisically will have families torn apart.

I do not think there is a whole lot more to say about this, except to ask the parliamentary secretary to do a better job to persuade his colleagues and the minister in caucus that it is worth keeping families together and standing up for family values.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the hon. member, which would indicate that our party stands up for families. Indeed, we do stand up for family values. In fact, our party ensures that every child under six years of age receives $100 per month.

I am disappointed that the member is not supporting this motion, ensuring it went forward. I know the member has worked hard to get to where he is. Will he support his leader when he supports Bill C-50? The bill would have some additional moneys that would go to reinforcing the system.

I ask the member to look at his rhetoric in terms of what he has said he wants and what the motion actually requests. They are two very different things. The member waxes eloquently, but when we look at the motion, it asks the government to allow any applicant, on filing an application to automatically be entitled to a temporary work permit and a stay of removal.

I think Canadians have an issue with this automatic business, where if applicants file, there are some automatic rights that follow; this particularly when they know applicants now who are in status after approval in principle do have a stay. Those who are out of status, and we are talking about those who have overstayed their temporary status, or working or studying without being authorized to do so, or entering Canada without a valid passport, visa or other documentation, and even to failed refugee claimants, could apply and, after approval in principle, have a stay that would take place in respect of the removal until the approval is done and any work permit issued.

I ask the hon. member to have a look at not what he says he wants, but at what the motion asks the government to do, and that is by filing a document, it automatically entitles a series of events to happen without regard to whether that is a bona fide application or without regard to the fact of whether the very principles or basic elements are established to the satisfaction of someone.

Why would the member not look at the motion and not what he proposes he would like to see it say? What is he asking? Does he seriously believe that simply filing an application, entitles an applicant to have things to happen without regard to any of the circumstances?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do find the comment passing strange. I will read the motion to the member so he can clearly understand it. I am surprised that he does not. The motion states:

The Committee recommends that the government allow any applicant (unless they have serious criminality) who has filed their first in-Canada spousal or common law sponsorship application to be entitled to a temporary work permit and an automatic stay of removal until a decision is rendered on their application.

An application is made. If the government says this application is bogus and makes a decision, the person is removed. There is no issue with that. Nobody is arguing that we will support a non-bona fide application. We believe in protecting the integrity of the system. We are saying that while we are in the process of dealing with the application, we do not separate families.

The member thanks me for saying that the Conservatives stand for family values. What I said was that they say they stand for family values, but they say one thing and they do something else. They are splitting families and they have no problem doing that, just like they have absolutely no problem in saying no to religious marriages in other countries and calling their children illegitimate. That is the Conservative Party's record.

I am amazed that some of my colleagues on the other side who happen to be Mennonites do not stand up and defend Mennonite marriages, and say that when we have a church wedding, we should not be discriminated against.

In terms of Bill C-50, I am afraid this is one member who will not support it. Bill C-50 very seriously undermines the objectivity of an immigration system that is being copied by all the countries they point to, such as Australia, New Zealand, Europe and England. The Americans are looking at it. Their senate is studying it because they want to have an objective system. The Conservatives would destroy ours so they could carry out their neo-conservative agenda.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the top news today is that the government's top economic problem is how to staff all the nation's companies. Apparently, finding more workers to avoid what Conservatives are saying is an economic time bomb is a very high priority. The Minister of Human Resources said our demographics are working against us in a speech yesterday to the Canadian Legislative Conference of the Canadian Building Trades.

Yes, we need workers. Apparently, in the next 12 years B.C. will be short 350,000 workers; Alberta, 100,000 workers in 10 years; Ontario 560,000 workers in 2030; Quebec, 13 million by 2016. We have a shortfall. Why would the Parliament of Canada not allow open work permits to be issued, so that these folks who are in Canada already can work because we need more workers, according to the human resources minister . He said that yesterday and we are out there looking for more workers.

Why are we then deporting these people who can work here, and not allowing them to work while they are applying to have their wives or spouses sponsor them in Canada? To the hon. member: It does not make sense, does it?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that Canada is facing a demographic crisis and to think that the government would discourage young families, break up young families, makes no sense. Further, the incredible reliance that the government puts on temporary foreign workers, instead of landed immigrants who will come here and build a country, also makes no sense. We need to start thinking more logically and not through the bureaucratese of the department, which I dare say could certainly use some modernization. It is very hard to try to explain the inconsistencies of the Conservative government.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pose the same question to my hon. colleague that I posed to the parliamentary secretary and I heard absolutely nothing from the parliamentary secretary as far as family values are concerned.

We have known that there are families who have been broken apart. I have in my riding a family where the husband met the wife. She was a refugee claimant. They got married and had two Canadian children. CBSA knocked at their door and said, “We're sorry. You have to go”. When the mother left, she took her two Canadian children with her because obviously the father could not look after them. Someone had to go to work.

I am wondering if my colleague would share his views on this matter. Does he think this is appropriate? Does he think that the Conservative Party is going too far? Are we using the CBSA to divide families? Is this a humane aspect and is this a way to keep families together?

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 6th, 2008 / 11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I say to my colleague that it was one of the reasons we put the motion at committee. It was to try to make sense and try to be logical about a situation that in policy makes no sense. What really strikes me and I find incomprehensible is that the governing Conservative Party cannot see the stupidity of the present process. It is just illogical. Why split families up? Every one of us, as members of Parliament, have had situations--